This year we had our holidays in May. The plan was to spend both weeks in Ireland, one in Northern Ireland, and the other in the North of Republic of Ireland, Donegal. We planned the dates to coincide with the NorthWest200.
We left on a Sunday morning after a day to rest a little and prepare everything. With the stuffs packed the day before (for the first time in many years), we had breakfast with no rush, and while I finished packing and put some order at home, Juan was mounting the luggage on the motorbikes.
Finally we left around 10am. Around 10.15, we stopped to fill in the tanks a few kilometres away. After filling, I want to turn on the bike. Nothing happens. I have the dziiiiiii noise when I turn on the key, but when I push the starter button it makes tactactac… and doesn’t start. We had something similar happening a few years ago in Cuenca (Spain), and by then it was my anti-theft chain under the seat that was producing a short circuit with some cable and blew the fuse.
We took out the chain, and after a while, the bike started again, and we finally left around 10.40, close to 11.00am, our usual time lol . We went on the motorway most of the way, with 3 or 4 stops to fill the tank and/or eat/drink. At every single stop the bike started without any problem. Just before 6.00pm and 520km later, we arrived to our destination, in Armoy, where we would spend our first week, in the same place where we stayed during our honeymoon travel.
After unloading all our stuffs, we thought about going for dinner in Ballycastle, on the coast. I turned on the key, tried to start, but then again, NOTHING happened. Again the same problem! After checking for a while all cables and fuses, we decided to leave it to the next day and go for dinner… walking, as I didn’t have a bike and Juan’s is single seater since he changed the exhausts… So there we went…
After dinner and buying some basic stuffs in Armoy’s shop, we went back. On the way back I thought that when we turn on the bike, the lights are on, and lately we had a problem with a connector of the lights. So maybe this had something to do. So we would try to turn on with full beam lights. When back to the bike, while I was looking for a torch, I heard the bike started 🙂 . Well then, the problem is not solved but it looks like the bike starts from time to time. If not, we have a problem as we are 35km away from the NorthWest200 which we came to see, and public transport is “kind of” limited around… So let’s see what’s happening next. This is the end of a first day full of surprises, we have no clue why the bike stopped, why it started again close to home and on the way, and why not now. No logical explanation but at least we made it there, this might be “The Luck of the Irish”…
The next day we took our time to sleep as the bike should start, and planned to go for breakfast in Armoy. Juan tries to start the bike, but the battery sounds weak and the bike doesn’t start. Now we have 2 problems, the whatever problem and the battery that now is weak for asking more than usual…
Finally it started and we went to Armoy but the place where we wanted to have breakfast was closed. So we followed to Ballycastle, fingers crossed that the bike still starts. We had breakfast in the café of the hotel in the sea front.
We went back to the accommodation to take a bagpack and nets and went to Coleraine to pick up the NorthWest200 tickets. I forgot to take the indications to get to the ticket office, and for some reason I thought it was in Coleraine, on the road to Portrush (the circuit is a triangle connecting Portstewart, Coleraine and Portrush), and it is quite long (not fit for walking it!). After a few loops around Coleraine, we stopped to ask to a lad with a Joey Dunlop tee-shirt, for sure he would know! We followed the indications, and we had to stop again for asking. But we were not far away as we were surrounded by protection bales, grandstands and signs on next chicanes and bends 😉 . Well at last we found the ticket office (which is in Portrush, not in Coleraine) and picked up the tickets. We also asked about the parking facilities and if they knew about any Suzuki dealer around, but were told to look on the internet… On the walk back to the bikes I almost bumped into a bearded man on a mini electric bike… it was Bruce Anstey lol .
We asked to 2 men about the dealer, and they told us to ask to a man with a van selling road racing stuffs. He was very kind to look into the program for the name and address of the Suzuki dealer who sponsors the NW, in Ballymoney, and told us that it was just in front of Joey’s Bar, so we couldn’t miss it!
I forgot to mention that there was a heatwave over Ireland, that had started the previous day, we were with short sleeves at 7.00pm, which is not usual in Ireland, less in May. And for some reason, this was the first time ever that we go on holidays without our summer gloves. And the winter gloves, mainly in the villages, were becoming quite unbearable.
We arrived to Ballymoney and went straight to Joey’s Bar and yes, just in front of the bar there was that huge Suzuki and Ducati dealer: Millsport Motorcycles. We got in and explained the problem, and they told us to leave the key and that a mechanics would have a look after lunch time.
So we took advantage to go for some refreshments at Joey’s Bar, while looking at Joey Dunlop’s RC30. After a coke and cleaning the visors (that’s the problem with the heat, all insects are flying to their death on the bikers visors), I was going for a second round when I saw by the window that a mechanics was taking down my bike back to the yard. So there we went and the mechanics told us that this was not an electrical problem, nor a battery problem. This was the starter motor that got stuck from time to time. He showed us how to unblock it if it happened again. They couldn’t change it as they didn’t have the spare part, but he told us that it could wait for us to be back home, as the bike would not let us down for that, we could follow with our trip without worries.
As they didn’t want any money for the diagnostic and the solution, we bought each a pair of summer gloves, as it was quite dangerous to ride like this anyway. I also had to take off the jacket lining. Then back to the bikes we stayed a while chatting with more people from the dealer who were happy to see a SV with 145.000km 😉 , they probably don’t see one everyday.
Then we went for a place to eat, which we didn’t find in Ballymoney so we went back to Ballycastle, where we had a fish&chips on a terrace on the seafront. Then we had some rest on the seaside, there were bikers and bikes everywhere. We did some basic shopping for the night and the following day (so basic that we forgot half of the stuff) and went back to the accommodation, happy for having the bike problem temporarily solved.
Tuesday was the first day of Practice of the NorthWest 200. For the NW 200 report, it’s HERE. Tuesday was Practice day, Thursday was Practice in the morning and Racing in the afternoon, and Saturday was Race day all day.
On Wednesday we had planned to go back to the Ballymoney dealer to change the back tyre of Juan’s bike. We didn’t change it before going on holidays as we knew that it would get squared on our way after 500km of straight line…
We couldn’t wake up early but we finally made it to Ballymoney “between showers”, without getting wet. While they were changing the tyre we had a look around the shop for the bikes, and I sat on the new so-called SV, which has so few left of mine. It looks half mine, the tank looks half of it (probably more comfortable?), and the frame is the Gladius’. The back seat is very small, probably even less comfortable than mine. All has been lost of the nice wasp silhouette of the original SV. The only positive thing in my opinion is that it has a lower and narrower seat, so I get better to the ground… But I defo keep mine! They also had one beautiful original SV for sale, in blue and white painting, beautiful. If I needed a second bike I would buy it straight away!
Then we went to Joey’s Bar for some refreshment, sitting outside in the sun. After a good while and for the second round, Juan came back with a Spanish couple from Tenerife, Laura & Víctor, who were coming to the NorthWest200 for the second year in a row and were also taking some time to visit Ireland. We stayed there chatting for quite a while and another round of 0.0’. Until we decided that it was time for a bite. You might not believe it but in the meantime in the sun, I got some suntan… or got a little bit sunburnt actually… After picking the bike we went to the parking in front of the museum, and tried a café next, but they only had sandwiches and similar. But the very nice barmaid told us to go to the main street, that there were plenty of places to eat properly. So we ended up the 4 of us in a pub, where we spent a good while.
Then we went back to the car park to say goodbye, and a group of French bikers arrived, and we started to chat also. They also came for the NorthWest200 for the second year in a row. They wanted to go to the museum but it was closed by then (I think it was already 6.00pm…), so finally they headed to Joey’s Bar and we said goodbye to Víctor and Laura.
Friday was also a sunny day. After a quiet breakfast we decided to take advantage of this glorious sunny day to go for a spin with the bikes. At the dealer, a client had advised us to take the coast road from Cushendal and anticlockwise. So I prepared an itinerary from Armoy to get to Cushendal through the nicest way. The truth is that there is a mount above Armoy that always grabbed my attention, and I was curious to know what was up there. So I checked the map and planned the itinerary through that mount.
And there we went: the fact is that the itinerary was also well indicated on the road, even though it was easy to find with the map. We soon found a narrow road in the middle of the mountain, surrounded with brown turf fields, and not much more. The road was good but we had to be careful with some loose gravel from time to time. Then the road went through a softwood, and then more turf fields. In Ireland they still use the turf as a fuel, it is taken out of the soil, cut in long and narrow prisms and let on the ground to dry.
We then stopped for enjoying beautiful view over the valley.
On the way down we found sheeps and lambs on the road, and then the coast on the horizon. The way down came quite abruptly to be honest, and we would find again this kind of roads of very sharp slopes… why make the road longer with bends… 😉
We arrived to Cushendal and to a carpark after the village, then went back to the village for a second breakfast (on that side they call the Irish Breakfast “Ulster Fry” but it’s much the same kind of nice full breakfast!) on the terrace of a hotel. Next to us was another biker who started to chat with us and ended up giving us many tips on roads to take that day and also in Donegal for the following week… Then we chatted with another biker who was on a trip with his son, and finally we headed for the road again.
We followed the advice and proceeded to Cushendun and then to Torr Head. The view from the road was amazing, the road is narrow but in very good condition (only some loose gravel from time to time), with sharp slopes upwards and downwards, and hardly any traffic. There are many places to stop to take pics without obstructing the scarce traffic, and in some others we had to abandon the idea of taking pics as it was impossible to park the bikes without them falling…
We tried our way to Torr Head, but as we arrived to the “village”, a driver coming that way informed us that the road was quite bumpy and bad for our bikes. So we parked the bikes and went for a short walk to check… We did well, there were a series of bends on a sharp slope, that looked quite worse than the Stelvio… So we took a few pics of the beautiful views and followed suit…
Then our “guide” had recommended to go to Balintoy Harbour, and so we did. It is very small but with a large car park and a bar with a terrace, ideal for the bikers rest with great views. We just took some pics and went away. There were bikers everywhere there too.
We went back to the main coastal road, which is very nice but with much more traffic, and a few bikers whom I don’t know how they are still alive with that kind of riding, overtaking on upward slopes without any visibility and other similar dangerous riding.
The idea was to go to Portrush, and take some pics around the circuit and then go to the paddock. We didn’t think that EVERYBODY else had exactly the same idea… All around the circuit and the starting grid straight were packed with bikes and cars in both ways. We were lucky and found to park both bikes just in front of the podium.
We left the bikes there and went for a walk around the paddock. Many racers were there: Dean Harrison, Michael Rutter, Davy Morgan, Alastair Seeley, Lee Johnson, Michael Dunlop and then Hutchy signing autographs. I also took advantage to buy Liam Beckett’s book, “Full Throttle”, about him Robert Dunlop. A book I highly recommend.
After a first round we stopped for a refreshment next to our neighbours from the accommodation, who were a very nice couple and who happened to be friends with Tyco BMW team owner. But after another while chatting with an old man who couldn’t stop criticising every single racer, we left for another round. It was then after 7.00pm and we went back to rest.
Sunday was farewell time, we said goodbye to the nice couple, who offered us a CD from the music band where he used to sing/play.
While I was still packing, Juan was trying to put the luggage on the bikes while he was chatting with everybody who was stopping to talk about the races 😉 . Finally, as usual, we left at 11.00am, overpacked, mainly Juan. We just saw that my topbox rack was sometimes touching the bike back tail, probably for a combination of overweight and bumpy roads, so we took things out of the topbox and put them mainly in Juan’s luggage… so he was now so overpacked that he could hardly incline in the bends and I had to wait for him after each roundabout lol .
We went westward, to the Northern-West part of the Republic of Ireland. We had booked a self-catering in Falcarragh, co. Donegal. We followed the GPS so didn’t get lost. We came across a rally of Classic trucks, very nice, during a few kilometres.
We stopped by a chance in a very nice teashop after the village of Kilmacrenan, where they served full breakfast until late. They were beautifully maintained thatched cottages, and we could enjoy a full breakfast under Donegal sun.
There was a fresh breeze but it was very nice in the sun.
As it was still early we took our time for breakfast as we had said we’d arrive at 5.00pm…
Finally, after a last road with nice twisties and beautiful views, we arrived to the selfcatering, much earlier but the nice couple was already there finishing the cleaning and painting and we chatted with them a good while.
The place was very nice, with incredible views to the sea and Tory Island, with a nice terrace to enjoy the sun in front of the bikes and with the sea at the back.
A perfect way to start our second week of holidays…
After our first Honeymoon Week in Connemara, the following Monday, with our heads full of nice landscapes, we left for about 380km – 6 hours.
In Ireland we were surprised by the difference between one “National” road and another, some are very wide, with enough space for 3 or 4 cars (and surprising when people start overtaking in front of you), and other also “National” much more narrow, but also limited at 100km/hour and I think you have to be mad to go at that speed on those roads 😀 , and with some spare sheeps in the middle from time to time. While travelling from one point to another, we tried to avoid the roads in “white” on our Michelin map and, took the “red” ones as much as we could!
Here we are, on nice roads, heading to Ulster, Armoy, where we had booked our second week. No problem on the road, and no rain. We arrived in Armoy in the afternoon and went to the village to buy something to survive the night, we would go to Ballymoney the following day to do some bigger shopping.
In the afternoon, we visited the Joey and Robert Dunlop Memorial Garden:
Wednesday we took the day to go to do some tourism, to The Giant’s Causeway. Beautiful.
At night, back in the village, there was a classic motorbikes show organised by the AMRRC, club organising the Road Races (fairly well). We had also a quick walk in the village garden:
We received there a very warm welcome, very nice people around, a great night in the pub.
On Thursday we went to Ballymoney Museum where there was a tribute to “The Dromara Destroyers” and followed with a visit to the Museum itself. And finished of course with a visit to Joey Dunlop’s pub.
And at last we got to Friday, practice day.
In the morning we first went to take some pictures to “The Dark Hedges”(that we had seen in Stephen Davison “Between the Hedges” which was kind of a start to us wanting to go to a Road Race).
After a long pics session, and lunch, we went to the circuit. We had planned to go to “Balaney Cross”. But as newcomers, we were walking around the paddock when they announced road closing in 5 minutes, and we did not have time to get there (we saw at the end of the day that some places were accessible from inside…).
So finally, we ended up in Kennedy’s corner, which was not so bad as there was a pub, fish&chips and nice neighbours who invited us to a beer 😉
We were just impressed, amazed, whatever, by the speed of the riders, on THOSE roads… Just WOW, respect. We spent two days “Wowing”, and people asking “this is your first road race?” 😀
Unfortunately it started to rain heavily at the end of the afternoon, and the organisation decided to stop the practice and postpone it to next day. We went back to the paddock, where we were together with the racers and their motorbikes.
When the roads opened we went back to our place for dinner and get some rest for the big day. 😉
On Saturday we had woken up quite early, to avoid doing the same silly thing as the day before. We got a good point in “Acheson’s Leap”, nice spot to take pictures of racers jumps…
We had nice chats with the guys next to us while waiting for the races to start.
It started with the practice they couldn’t do the day before. It was sunny with good temperature 23-25°C, with some cloud from time to time.
In this point they were also quite fast, and with nice jumps. It is amazing how close you are to the riders.
At last the races started, 10 in total.
The races are just amazing, crazy, the speed, the road conditions, to be so close to the action, and the atmosphere. It was so great. For me, way much exciting than MotoGP (which is quite boring anyway) or Superbikes, or any other kind of race I have seen in circuits. And also much easier to take cool pics without a professional camera 😉
Now the pics:
Rodney Patton & Jeremy Mc Williams
Derek Mc Gee
We were quite impressed by everything, the races, the people, the racers, the speed. We will go for more for sure!
The races ended at 5pm, the roads opened and we went to the village for a pint or three… We talked to many nice people there, and just before going back home a few hours later, we met with Michael Dunlop in the other pub and had a little chat with him. That was funny, very nice lad.
At last, we had to go back “home”…
On Sunday it rained all day, so we just had some rest…
On Monday, we were on the road again, for our 3rd week holiday, 547km and 6 hours according to Google…
To be continued…